IAP NEWS UPDATE March 5th – March 11th 2011 Publication: The Independent Title: Teachers, the new scapegoats of the right Author: Rupert Cornwell Date: March 6th, 2011 Website: http://www.independent.co.uk/opinion/commentators/rupertcornwell/rupertcornwell teachersthenewscapegoatsoftheright2233625.html Survey: PISA
As school standards fall, the classroom has become the latest front in the war over public spending cuts
Who, precisely, is the US teacher? Is he (or more likely she) a kind, caring person, driven by a deep sense of vocation that outweighs the meagre monetary rewards on offer – or the fortunate owner of a job guaranteed for life and protected by an overpowerful trade union, whose resistance to change is a prime cause of the crisis of the school system?
The answer is, both of the above, but right now, image number two is winning hands down. Most people can remember their favourite teacher, the one who set an example, who went the extra mile for you, who may even have changed your life. However, in this season of American anger, of state house confrontations, and scarifying budget deficits, teachers collectively are more often seen as greedy villains.
They may not be the bestpaid workers in the world. But aren't they usually off work by midafternoon, and don't they get three full months off every summer? The rest of us should be so lucky. And they have more than made up for those salary shortcomings with pension and health care benefits that most private sector workers would kill for – and which now threaten to bankrupt the very states and municipalities that employ them.
So, at least, the story goes, as put about by both Republican and Democratic governors who are taking on the teachers and other public sector unions to claw back some of these generous benefits in order to balance their budgets. The Republicans who run Wisconsin, Indiana and Ohio (to name but three states) would go even further, not just freezing pay, trimming benefits and cutting jobs, but stripping the unions of virtually all collective bargaining rights.
Whether they'll succeed, no one can yet say. But everywhere teachers are frontline targets. From California to New York, tens of thousands of them are facing layoff. In Providence, Rhode Island, all 1,926 public school teachers have been told they will be dismissed (though the vast majority will of course have to be rehired), while high school students in Idaho – not previously known as a hotbed of leftwing unrest – walked out of class last Monday to protest against the planned firing of 750 teachers across the state.
March 2011, in short, is not the happiest of times for the education profession on this side of the Atlantic. As Erin Parker, a high school science teacher in Wisconsin, ground zero of the assault on public unions, put it to The New York Times, "you feel punched in the stomach".
America's great debate about teachers and teaching is not just over how to stop states going broke, or the alleged Republican plot to break the public sector unions, vital financial backers of the Democrats. For more than a decade now, a far wider debate has raged, irrespective of the party in power. Indeed a rare bipartisan consensus has emerged. As might be expected, Democrats and Republicans have differing answers – but both agree that if the country is losing its way in the world, education is exhibit A in the "declinist" case.
Not, it should be said, higher education. In every list of the world's best universities, the overwhelming majority are American. And even if you exclude the Harvards, Berkeleys and Princetons, the "average" US college, whether public or private, is a pretty impressive place. The problem lies with the elementary and high schools, more than 80 per cent of them public, where beleaguered teachers such as Erin Parker work.
The US school system is integrated, richly diverse and, with total funding of $550bn (£338bn) a year, hardly starved of cash. But is it doing its most important job, of turning out young Americans who can
hold their own in a fiercely competitive and technologybased global economy? The evidence would suggest it is not.
The most closely watched barometer of such matters is the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa), conducted regularly by the Parisbased OECD and comparing 15yearolds in 34 of the richest countries. In the latest Pisa, released at the end of last year, the US came 14th in reading, 17th in science and a dismal 25th in mathematics.
The results were described by Arne Duncan, the Secretary for Education, as "an absolute wakeup call for America" and proof that "other highachieving nations are outeducating us and outcompeting us". Small wonder that no candidate for state or national office dare be without a detailed blueprint for education reform, and Barack Obama made education the key to "winning the future", the catchphrase of his State of the Union address just six weeks ago.
But he's not the first president to sound the alarm. George W Bush has always pointed to the 2002 law "No Child Left Behind", requiring states to set measurable standards for school performance, and holding schools directly accountable if they failed to meet them, as his proudest domestic achievement.
Obama has countered with his own initiative, called "Race to the Top", which rewards states that perform well in education with extra funds, while more than 40 states have experimented with "charter" schools, publicly funded but exempted from many regulations on condition they meet specific goals. A few have introduced more controversial voucher schemes, that allow parents to use tax they would otherwise pay for public schools to help meet tuition in private schools.
All these ideas have one goal in common – to bring a bit of private sector rigour and accountability to the public education system. For teachers they mean greater scrutiny of their performance and less security of tenure. No longer would their job be a sinecure; if they didn't measure up, they could even be fired.
Not surprisingly, the teaching unions, both local and national, have opposed some of these proposals – and, as with health care, it is debatable precisely how far the disciplines of the marketplace should be applied to education.
But one thing is sure. The bitter budget battles in Wisconsin and elsewhere have opened a new front in America's education wars, placing teachers and their unions under pressure as rarely before.
Publication: The Courier Times Title: Student performance vs. teacher unions Author: Jack Kelly Date: March 11th, 2011 Website: http://www.phillyburbs.com/news/local/courier_times_news/news_columnists/student performancevsteacherunions/article_02bae377661152b78e65aca1386e008b.html Survey: TIMSS/PISA
The key thing about student achievement in the United States is there isn't much of it.
The Parisbased Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) publishes comparative education statistics for the OECD's 34 members and selected other countries. The latest was in 2009.
In reading, U.S. students ranked 17th of 70 countries, at about the OECD average. In mathematics, U.S. students ranked 30th, at a level significantly below the OECD average. In science, U.S. students ranked 23rd, at about the OECD average.
We cannot maintain our standard of living if our students lag behind our international competitors for a prolonged period. And our kids have been mediocre, at best, for quite some while. In the Third International Mathematics and Science Study (1995), high school seniors in the U.S. ranked 19th out of 21 in math, 16th in science.
This isn't because of a lack of resources. In 2006, per pupil expenditures in the U.S. were 41 percent higher than the OECD average. Measured in dollars per student, only Switzerland spent more.
The Swiss may be getting their money's worth. Their students outperform ours in reading, math and science.
But we're not. Spending on public K12 education increased by 44 percent in inflationadjusted dollars between 1990 and 2008, but test scores have remained essentially flat.
In fact, the longer American students are in school, the worse they do compared to students in other countries. In the 1995 TIMSS, American 4th graders were slightly above average in math, 8th graders were slightly below average, and 12th graders were far below average.
These statistics make teacher unions look bad. So a defender has invented one he thinks makes them look better.
"Only five states do not have collective bargaining for educators and have deemed it illegal. Those states and their ranking on ACT/SAT scores are as follows: South Carolina, 50th; North Carolina, 49th; Georgia, 48th; Texas, 47th; Virginia, 44th."
This factoid has jumped from lefty blogs to the Economist, which is usually more careful. Politifact described it as "unreliable." A lesser reason is the data are from 1999. The larger reason is it is garbage.
The proportion of high school seniors who take the tests varies widely from state to state. The larger the number of students who take a test, the lower the average score. Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota typically have the highest average SAT scores, because only those few planning to attend Ivy League colleges take it.
To get the combined ACT/SAT ranking, University of Missouri law professor Douglas Linder took each state's ranking on both tests, and added them together.
"It's nonsense," said historian Angus Johnston. "When you compare Wisconsin's SAT average to Georgia's you're comparing the performance of a tiny elite in one state with that of 74 percent of the graduating class of the other. And on top of that, this chart gives Wisconsin's SAT score equal weight with its ACT score in determining which state is 'better.' "
Another problem with the bogus stat is that private and parochial students take college admission tests too. They score better on them than do students in public schools. The proportion of students in private schools varies widely from state to state.
State averages mask the ugly truth: The closest correlation with academic achievement is race.
In his legendary Fisking of New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, Dave Burge (Iowahawk) demonstrated that when NAEP scores are broken out by race, students in nonunion Texas outperform students in unionized Wisconsin in 17 of 18 categories. (Hispanic students in Wisconsin scored slightly higher in 4th grade science.)
It's no accident minority students do relatively better in nonunion states. Many black and Hispanic youngsters who struggled in public school have thrived in private, parochial and charter schools. But teacher unions are the foremost enemies of these lifelines for minority students.
Publication: The Copenhagen Post Title: Public schools rate at world education summit Date: March 10th, 2011 Website: http://www.cphpost.dk/news/national/88national/51133publicschoolsrateatworld educationsummit.html
US and other countries take a lesson from Denmark’s public schools
The United States Department of Education has invited Denmark, and 24 other nations whose students earned top results in the latest Pisa study on education, to an international education summit to be held in New York City next week, public broadcaster DR reports.
The latest Pisa study by the Organisation for Economic CoOperation and Development (OECD) in Paris tested approximately 470,000 15yearolds from around the world in their academic capabilities in maths, reading and science in 2009.
Denmark’s students came in at 19th place overall, just edging out the United Kingdom in 20th place. The top scorers were China, South Korea, Finland, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and Australia. American students came in at 14th place overall.
Although Denmark did not score at the absolute top of the list, there are still lessons the US and other countries can learn from the Danish public school system, according to Anders Bondo Christensen, chairman of the Danish Union of Teachers.
“Something about the Danish public schools that impresses foreign countries is the way in which Danish students apply the knowledge they gain. They are creative, they know how to work together, and they are able to think outside the box – those are things the other countries want to emulate,” said Christensen.
Christensen hopes that newly named Education Minister Troels Lund Poulsen will attend the New York summit.
Publication: The National Title: Young people's reading skills deteriorating Author: Melanie Swan and Afshan Ahmed Date: March 11th, 2011 Website: http://www.thenational.ae/news/uaenews/education/youngpeoplesreadingskills deteriorating Survey: TIMSS/PISA
Young people’s reading skills are deteriorating because of an addiction to technology, lack of reading material in homes and the absence of a literary tradition, academics say.
Many teachers in government schools say they struggle to find incentives to persuade their pupils to read. “Their excuse is they do not have the time,” said Asma Humaidan, an English teacher at the Al Dhait public school in Ras al Khaimah. “In my class of 60, only one girl reads for pleasure.”
The Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) for 2007 found that 44 per cent of pupils in Dubai had fewer than 25 books in their home, and only 12 per cent owned more than 100 books. TIMSS reports every four years on the achievement levels of fourth and eighth grade pupils.
A 2008 UN survey found that the average Arab in the Middle East reads about four pages of literature a year. Americans read an average of 11 books a year and Britons an average of eight.
In the Programme for International Student Assessment (Pisa) results released in December 2010, Dubai ranked 42nd out of 65 countries in reading literacy. Pisa is a worldwide evaluation of 15year olds coordinated by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).
“Students’ performance in Dubai still needs considerable improvement to catch up,” Andreas Schleicher, the director of Pisa, said. “In particular, that onethird of the students do not reach the baseline level in reading literacy is worrying.”
Galal Abdul Rahman Saleh, a teacher at the Omar bin al Khattab Model School in Dubai, said reading was losing out to time spent on social networking sites and games consoles.
“Students have begun to lose interest in reading because of technology, so they are browsing rather than reading,” he said. “That is more interesting and interactive for them than some pages with words.”
Mr Saleh said the typical home lacked a culture of reading. “Most parents do not read to their children or encourage them to read,” he said. “This has a bearing on their academic performance because it enhances their knowledge and writing skills.”
Zeyna al Jabri, who owns Buzoor, a distribution house in Dubai that supplies Arabic titles to schools, said a love for reading must be instilled at an early age. “Give books to children like you would give them toys,” she said.
Another challenge was that Arab students accustomed to using colloquial speech found it hard to comprehend books written in classical Arabic, which caused them to lose interest, she said.
“Parents have to introduce them by reading to them right from the beginning so that they grasp the language in its pure form and develop a love for it,” she said.
The Abu Dhabi Education Council (Adec) is developing Learning Resource Centres for every public school, which will include Arabic and English magazines, books and multimedia resources.
And at the Higher Colleges of Technology (HCT) in Al Gharbia, students are being encouraged to read on their long bus journeys to school. The project, called Reading to Go, which began in 2008, gives students reading material on topics including current affairs and history.
Alex McTaggart, who teaches English at HCT, says students associate reading with work. “We allow students to take ownership of the English language by asking them to take their local stories and tales and put them into English.
“This has been a great success, as local Emirati storytelling has new life breathed into it and can compete on a level with the external cultural influences of Hollywood and Bollywood.”
Some Emirati authors, such as Qais Sedki, are attempting to give these stories a modern twist through novels such as The Gold Ring, a mangastyle book inspired by traditional folk tales that won Mr Sedki a Sheikh Zayed Book Award.
“The availability of content is a big issue, content that is close to the children’s environment,” he said. “If they don’t find something familiar and comfortable, it becomes an obstacle. Reading isn’t something a child naturally gravitates towards, so it needs to be developed.”
Mr Sedki says it was a big leap for young people to leave high school and go to college or university – where almost all courses are taught in English – when they do not even read Arabic texts during their formative years, because Bedouin culture is based on a tradition of oral storytelling.
At many colleges, as many as 90 per cent of students must take remedial English programmes to bring them up to the standards required for degreelevel study.
Abrar Mikawi, a cofounder of the Arabic cultural club at Dubai Women’s College, said: “Our students haven’t even read Arabic books. They don’t see their parents reading and have no idea about Arabic culture, history or figures such as Ibn Battuta. They don’t read anything other than what they have to in their textbooks.”
Publication: The Huffington Post Title: Moving Forward or Chasing Our Own Tail?
Author: Sean Slade Date: March 10th, 2011 Website: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/seanslade/movingforwardorchasing_b_833792.html Survey: PISA
A few months back I wrote a piece for The Washington Post education section titled "What Other Countries Are Really Doing in Education." In the first line I asked, "Are we moving forward or chasing our own tail?"
I repeat it here because it seems that the more we say we are moving forward, progressing and reforming our education systems, the more we actually seem to be chasing our own tails and repeating what we have been doing.
Ever since the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) put out its Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, the conversation among U.S. education pundits has centered on our "Sputnik moment" and the fact that the United States now ranks 14th out of 34 for reading, 17th for science, and a belowaverage 25th for mathematics. Subsequently, the conversation has kneejerked to how we can raise these scores and how we must further narrow the focus on reading, math, and if we have the funding science. Why? So that we can improve our ranking compared to other countries and return to the top of the table.
The discussion in the United States has been very teachercentric, academicscentric, and testing centric. It has revolved around providing incentives for effective teachers; expanding the ability to fire ineffective teachers; the value or lack of teaching experience, credentials, and degrees; increasing class time and lengthening the school day; and expanding the role of standardized testing.
We appear to be reactive in the education debate as opposed to proactive. We appear to be more concerned about where we rank and how we score academically than we are about what the results may tell us about what we value and how we structure our education systems. In short, we appear to be chasing our own tail reacting to what's waved in front of us, going in circles and losing sight of the bigger picture.
Last month, alongside the aforementioned crop of publications, the OECD Directorate of Education began another initiative. The initiative Education and Social Progress is actually an adjunct to a previous project titled the Social Outcomes of Learning. These initiatives look to better understand how society benefits from education and varying education systems. How does an education system affect health, wellbeing, longevity, productivity, and social engagement? How do education systems promote society and develop its future citizens?
Isn't this where the U.S. education debate should be? Shouldn't we be more geared toward discovering what we want our education system to do in the broadest sense than myopically focused on where we rank? And isn't it interesting that the countries looking at how education supports and grows society are also the ones we are trailing in the three discreet measures of PISA?
Maybe the PISA results should be seen as are just what they purport to be an indication of how countries measure up to one another on three indicators. They are a snapshot, an impression of how countries compare, but they don't seek to be a divining rod for what an education system should be.
Even the PISA 2009 Results: Executive Summary states on the first page, "PISA focuses on young people's ability to use their knowledge and skills to meet reallife challenges. This orientation reflects a change in the goals and objectives of curricula themselves, which are increasingly concerned with what students can do with what they learn at school and not merely with whether they have mastered specific curricular content."
Publication: Montclair Patch Title: Racing to Nowhere: What America's Education System Can Learn From Finland Date: March 5th, 2011 Author: Jaleh Teymourian Brahms Website: http://montclair.patch.com/articles/racingtonowherewhatamericaseducationsystemcan learnfromfinland Survey: PISA
This week, a number of parents attended viewings in both Montclair and Millburn of “The Race to Nowhere," the documentary film by Vicki Abeles about the pressures children face in our current education system. Below is one parent's take on the film.
Quite frankly I felt a measure of despair as I sat in the Millburn High School auditorium full of other township parents, educators and administrators. I recognized myself in the film. I have told my daughter she needs to do well so she can get into AP classes when they’re offered. I also felt despair because much of the data presented in the film was as depressing as it was compelling. An AP biology teacher recalls cutting the homework he assigns in half and the AP scores of his students rise.
Denise Pope stated the colleges and universities these children have worked so hard to be accepted into are having to remediate 50 percent of college freshman because they are memorizing material for tests and not learning it. Therefore they aren’t retaining the information they need to be successful at a basic level in university. These are kids taking AP classes, folks.
The film takes the opposite stance of the slicker bigbudget “Waiting For Superman" in that it advocates for moving away from standardized testing and AP courses as a measure of success. "Superman" suggests testing is the way to measure success. "Race to Nowhere" suggests reducing or eliminating homework and concentrating on group projects and thoughtful assignments will increase the students critical thinking abilities and ability to work collaboratively. "Superman" advocates for more homework. "Superman" also suggests longer school days are needed, whereas "Race to Nowhere" patently says kids need more time to be kids, to engage with their families and get the proper amount of sleep.
Although wellintentioned, I felt like I heard a lot of platitudes from the panel after the film. More insultingly was the way we as parents seemed lectured to about our children's lack of time management by the panel, who seemed to suggest there are no problems in our school district. I wanted someone to tell me "we’re going to investigate because some compelling questions have been asked," but we didn't hear that. I wasn't expecting the panel to formulate a new way of educating our children on the spot—that’s both unrealistic and unwise. But there needs to be time to consider the research, discuss a plan and it’s implementation and go from there. To have a panel of guidance counselors tell me kids should be kids does nothing to address the problem.
And while we're on the subject, why wasn't Schools Supt. James Crisfield on this panel? Or members of the Millburn Board of Education or principals from any of the schools?
Our education system is broken. We’re 31st amongst developed nations when it comes to math and science achievement. Globalization is happening and we’re being left in the dust. The two films offer two very different reasons and solutions for the failing of our education and our children. When I got home that night I started doing some research of my own.
A country that consistently tops the list according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) latest PISA survey is Finland. According to the OECD website, “PISA is a threeyearly survey of the knowledge and skills of 15yearolds in OECD member countries and partner countries and economies.”
OECD has found there is a direct correlation between countries that rank high in the PISA survey and the country’s potential economic prosperity. This alone should make our country take pause. Our future prosperity as a nation depends on our children being educated. Of course it makes sense. These are the people who will be running the place long after we’ve moved into retirement homes and adult diapers.
What does Finland do differently from the United States? A lot. Finland has a high graduation rate, equality in access to education for all students, high scores on benchmark testing, and moderate spending per pupil. Teaching is considered a prestige profession. Only those who are at the top of their class can go on to be accepted to pursue a degree in education. It’s the most competitive field in the country surpassing law, medicine and finance. Not surprisingly then the Finnish people hold educators in the highest regard. They truly are the best and brightest.
Another component that flies in the face of those in favor of standardized testing—Finland abolished these tests in the 80s. They moved away from this method of accountability and gave their educators some freedom to teach in more creative ways. They use the national curriculum as a guideline, not as the be all and end all. Kids in Finland spend less time in the classroom than American kids, whose school days are comprised on average of seven class periods hours of classroom instruction. Their Finnish counterpart typically has three. This allows them time to finish their projects and study and it also grants time for their teachers to create meaningful lesson plans, discuss practices with colleagues and assess their students accurately. When all your teachers hold advanced degrees and are the cream of the crop you can do this sort of thing.
The only time students take a standardized test is when they are high school seniors and want to go on to college. Students aren't grouped by ability or "tracked" until they are high school sophomores.
Finland is a small nation with only 4 percent of it’s population foreign born, so why would we think the United States, a nation founded on diversity, could implement these kind of changes successfully? Norway is Finland’s neighbor and is similar to Finland in size and demographics. Norway also has an education system very similar to ours. Overcrowded classrooms, teachers who aren’t required to have advanced degrees, the schools are under funded and teachers are paid much less than fellow professional. Norway even has a program similar to our own “Teach America” and consistently receives mediocre rankings in the survey.
If we look at Norway as the control and Finland as the variable here, it’s pretty clear that success isn’t really as dependant upon the country's size and a homogeneous population as it us upon the practices and educational policies put in place.
My initial take away from "Race to Nowhere" is something has to be done about our dismal education system. I don’t want someone who is just memorizing something just to forget it two weeks later after the test is over operating on me because I don't give a damn about their GPA. I want their knowledge and experience if they are cutting into me.
I’ve heard a lot of talk from the workmom’s network about making sure the teachers and administrators see this film and get the message, but the onus can’t be just on the administrators. We need a political system willing to do something other than more of the same, and we as a society have to adjust our measures for success. We can complain all we want about the level of homework our children have but we are the ones demanding they take all AP classes and have the appropriate extracurricular activities to build their resume for college. We have to step up take responsibility for our part in perpetuating this ‘driven’ culture of our kids lives and let go a little bit.
Not every student belongs at an Ivy League school; they belong at a school that is the right fit for them. As the film points out, most CEOs in this nation came from state schools. And many were C students to boot. When my daughter was an infant, parents were discussing the preschools they had been on waiting lists at since they were pregnant. I laughed when someone mentioned thinking they were overexaggerating for effect. I was met with stares that said they were serious as a heart attack.
“Why?” I asked incredulous. One no nonsense mom laid it out for me while the others nodded in agreement.
“Well if she doesn’t get in there, she won’t get into (the day school), which means that (the private high school) is out of the question and she won’t get into Harvard.”
“What if she doesn’t want to go to Harvard?” I asked. The other mom laughed, “Oh no, she’s going to Harvard.” The moms all chuckled.
As one kid in the film said, “If you don’t get into a good school, a four year college, the other kids look down on you.”
There is nothing wrong with having high expectations for your children, but make sure you are considering your child in these expectations and make them appropriate for your child. One woman in the film related a story about her daughter who had just taken her AP French exam. “I never have to speak French again,” her daughter said. I find that really sad. Loading up a schedule with AP classes for the sole purpose of padding a weighted GPA instead of taking them because of a passion or affinity for the subject is what our kids feel compelled to do. One girl said, “Cheating becomes another course you take beginning in ninth grade.” This Machiavellian attitude has become pervasive in our culture. We’re churning out a population that sees nothing wrong with cheating if you don’t get caught, and it gets you into the college of your choice. Fast forward a few years and these people become our policy makers and captains of industry—woefully uninformed and morally suspect.
Perhaps the most haunting bit in the film is the story of Devon Marvin, a 13yearold girl who killed herself after failing a math test. We’ve placed such an emphasis on success and making sure our kids do everything rightthat kids are unable to handle failure. Is that who we want leading our nation in our golden years? Walt Disney went bankrupt numerous times before creating Mickey Mouse. He had the perserverance enterpreneurs must have to create new industries, and generate the products and inventions that shape our world.
We don't need platitudes we need action.